Forget iWorks — I’m Editing Google Docs on the iPad

With all the talk about Apple’s iPad, I’m noticing two trends. First, the device is polarizing opinions — people either lust for it or say they don’t see the point of it. Very few seem to be “on the fence” about the iPad. But there’s a common thread among all — folks are wondering how (or if) an iPad fits into their daily workflow, and that gets me to my second trend. People are looking to the iPad for more than content consumption — which it is excellent for — they’re trying to be productive with it. I’m doing just that, now that I found an app that not only links my iPad with my Google Docs account, but lets me edit documents and spreadsheets in the cloud.

Office2 Pro is the app and it cost me $7.99, which I think is more than reasonable for the functionality it provides. The software allows me to use the iPad as if I was running Google Docs locally on my computer. With it, I can view any of my documents, spreadsheets, presentations or even Adobe PDF files I have stored in the cloud. But Google Docs viewers are a dime-a-dozen — the difference here is that I can edit files on the iPad and the changes are saved online to my Google Docs account.

It’s not perfect (yet), but it works

Now there are some limitations and quite a few kinks to be worked out. For starters, you can view all kinds of file types, but for now, you can only edit documents or spreadsheets. Presentations are view-only. I also encountered a fair number of bugs when using the software. Adding an image to a document worked, for example, but when I zoomed the page to get a better view of the format, the entire doc zoomed off the screen. I was able to save the changes, even in this state, but it was a scary few moments. That’s not the only bug, but rather than run though them all, I’ll say this: the developer is aware of several issues and has already submitted a version with fixes to Apple for approval. I’ve captured the list of fixes in the image gallery below.

iPad: meet the cloud

It was tricky to connect Office2 Pro with Google Docs, and the support information could use an update. Once I figured it out however, the steps were actually quite simple. And I didn’t just connect the iPad with my personal Gmail account — the software supports Google Apps accounts too, so I’ve used it for both work and personal documents. Yes, you can link Office2 Pro to multiple web accounts simultaneously. Although I don’t have a MobileMe account, the developer says you can also connect Office2 Pro to an iDisk on MobileMe. And it also supports Box.net or any WebDAV server, so you’re not limited to Google Docs. In the file explorer, you can create folders and move documents just as if you were accessing your Docs account in a browser. Plus you can email docs right from the app. From a connectivity standpoint, most users should be covered.

Usability

Data entry is relatively straightforward. The iPad’s native on-screen keyboard is available by tapping a button — tap your screen where you want to insert or change data and start typing. All of the special function buttons are at the top of your document, just where you’d expect them. And the app works in portrait or landscape, although the file explorer stays put in landscape — I’d like to see the document in full screen but haven’t found a way to do that yet in landscape. In a spreadsheet, data entry can be a little cumbersome as you first tap a cell and then enter data in a field above the spreadsheet — not ideal, but it works.

Most functionality that people use for documents and spreadsheets is available in Office2 Pro. From a word processing standpoint, you have text and paragraph formatting, table creation, images and even real-time spelling correction to name a few features. Spreadsheet support includes multiple worksheets (although there’s a bug with this), sorting, formatting, cell merging, pane freezing, and 112 functions.

I’d estimate that most of what people need in a Google Docs editor is in the app, or is coming soon. Office2 Pro is surprisingly full-featured if you approach it with a Google Docs mentality — it’s good enough for most users, but won’t replace every function found in the Microsoft Office suite. Aside from charts and other advanced features offered by Google Docs, the basics are all here.

 

Note: to view any images in full size, simply right-click on one and open in a new browser tab.

Buy now or wait?

So if you can connect your iPad with a Google Docs account and edit information, why isn’t anyone talking about this application? I think there’s a few reasons — lack of awareness for starters, not to mention the buggy nature I’ve experienced. Unless you’re a patient person, I’d strongly consider waiting for the updated version with fixes before plunking down the $7.99. Yes, the app works, but it’s not quite where it needs to be. I’ve had to create workarounds for some issues and not everyone is willing to do that. A good example: there’s no Close button when you’re done with edits. I end up opening a new document in this case, which forces the app to prompt for a document save. And that’s just one of several user interface examples that need some tweaking.

I’m looking forward to the updated version as I see great promise in Office2 Pro. I made the transition to Google Docs well over two years ago and this software is breathing an air of productivity into my iPad that I didn’t expect. I anticipate that Apple will update its iWorks apps to address compatibility and file management issues but I’m not so sure Apple will fully embrace Google Docs in iWorks. If it does, great, but if not, Office2 Pro is worth the look.

(Special shout out to Joshua, a reader that tipped me on this app!)

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